In one way, Beardyman’s debut longplayer, the imaginatively-titled I Done A Album, is a perfectly distilled version of the man. It’s a zoetrope for an entertainer whose scenes flicker between YouTube musical cookery, claiming the UK Beatbox Championship (twice), and a sold-out comedy slot at the Edinburgh Fringe. All of this is successfully crammed into his eclectic opener – but while it can all be glimpsed, it fails to deliver the true feel of such a maverick showman. Beardyman is a performer, and that’s proven to be an elusive essence to capture.
The big hurdle for a beatbox artist was always going to be delivering rounded tracks from what is typically scattered and quickfire pastiche. Not that it’s new ground – since Rahzel‘s If Your Mother Only Knew, UK and US audiences have grown accustomed to their beats coming replete with melody. These days, everyone from Bj�rk to Justin Timberlake is pulling in the likes of Rahzel and Shlomo and showing beatbox is more than just rhythm. The problem, it seems, is specific to Beardyman – that on record, when the impact of the performance is lost behind the production, it’s the quality of the composition and not the skill of the composer that matters.
Vampire Skank is the poster boy for the album’s woes. Half Adam Sandler-esque skit (and funny for it), but half Cossack-dubstep, it’s a chimera too far. While impressive to witness Beardyman’s mocked-up trumpets and balalaikas, and actually mouthwatering for the opening bars of its grimy second half, it’s overly long and fails to evolve from these early ideas. Big Man, meanwhile, a wry dig at the precocious chav, finds the album’s other fault line – while there are rumbles of alluring skank-bass, and infrequent eruptions of melody on the chorus, Beardyman’s humour rubs aggressively against the track and, in the end, he can’t let it subside. The result is a song that disappears down its own, whiney, pikey crevasse.
The jokes don’t all fall flat though. Neat snippets set the tone, and maintain pace, and If Only’s dream of the mauling of Justin Bieber is just delicious. Elsewhere, you can’t help smiling with Beardyman’s sardonic despondency and this edge is a strength. Yet these elements won’t bear repeat listens and what’s funny will quickly turn to filler.
The real high points, then, are in the few tracks where the bluster takes second place and lets the music entertain. Twist Your Ankal is an effervescent dance round an Afrobeat savannah – catchy, still fun, and reaching effectively across genres. Oh! lets rap / grime stalwarts Foreign Beggars add their vocals, and so lets Beardyman return to support duties – the result is well struck and all parts benefit from being back in their natural setting. Smell The Vibe nods to the ’90s, with jazz toots mixing over hip-hop loops – a little Goldie Lookin’ Chain, but still hook-laden. And across all three, what works is Beardyman letting his skill compliment the track rather than dominate it. While they still have his touch, they see him loosen his grip.
There’s plenty on I Done A Album to please Beardy fans, while those newcomers to all things beatbox will be pleasantly surprised by the range of styles that he taps up. But those wanting a complete package – a sign that the genre is matured and ready to offer up the finished product – still have some waiting to do. For now, download the best, and watch the rest on YouTube.